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Analysis & Opinion
20.12.10 Trust Nobody
By Svetlana Kononova

The Soviet system allowed citizens to shirk their responsibilities in return for dependence on the state. But two decades after the collapse of the system, Russian citizens are reluctant to trust each other, readily willing to cheat each other and skeptical of everyone apart from their closest relatives.

“She cheats and doesn’t blush. But we are honest,” claims an advertising billboard on the Moscow metro, depicting a rude and devious saleswoman. It doesn’t matter what this poster is promoting– what is much more interesting is that it appeals to customers by exploiting their deep fears and longings. A large-scale survey titled the “Post-Soviet Man and Civil Society,” conducted by the independent Levada Center, found that most Russians find it difficult to trust other people. Such surveys have been conducted every year since 1991, recording the most important changes in the Russians’ mentality since the collapse of the Soviet Union.

The results of the survey reveal some bizarre trends. The number of people who trust others has decreased significantly over the last two decades. In 1991, only 41 percent of respondents were skeptical and suspicious. Now, 70 percent say they do not trust anybody, 72 percent do not want to help anybody, and 75 percent do not want to cooperate with other people in solving problems.

The authors of the survey believe that these attitudes are rooted in the Soviet past. “A Soviet man fully belonged to the state. He was dependent on the state. He knew the state would definitely deceive him, would try to use all of his resources, leaving him only the minimum required to survive. Therefore, he believed he had the right to mess up the authorities’ orders, to make mistakes, to steal and avoid responsibility,” they noted in an accompanying statement. The limited opportunities to manage his or her own life made a typical Soviet citizen passive, anxious and envious.

Paradoxically, this mentality did not disappear when the Soviet Union collapsed, and has even strengthened. The survey found that “dubious” forms of behavior, such as distrust, fear, aggression and willingness to commit fraud now have less negative connotations, and have become a normal part of social life.

This affects all aspects of everyday life – work, business, charity, justice and personal relationships. A poll conducted by the research center of the recruitment Web portal Superjob.ru found that one in five respondents have been ripped off by an employer at least once. The most common type of fraud is non-compliance with agreements about salaries, work responsibilities and working hours. However, in such cases victims are not willing to stand up for their rights. According to the “Post-Soviet Man” survey, in cases of labor law violation, 35 percent of respondents said they would change jobs, but only six percent would appeal to a labor union and two percent would be prepared to take part in protests.

“The most typical cases of fraud involve vacancies that do not have a full description of the job responsibilities and candidate requirements, such as personal assistant, administrator and manager,” said Alexey Zakharov, the president of Superjob.ru. “If an employer does not want to provide any specific information about the job by telephone, it might be a fraudulent position.”

Zakharov advised candidates to respond only to vacancies that are advertized via large and reputable recruitment Web sites and agencies. He also said people should research information about any potential future employer on the Internet and ask questions about the job by telephone before the interview. However, even working for large and reputable companies in Russia does not guarantee that labor law will never be violated.

The flip side of the coin is the attitude that company representatives have toward clients. Another poll conducted by Superjob.ru found that representatives of many professions in Russia are willing to deceive customers to get better results. Sixty one percent of sales representatives, 57 percent of PR managers and 56 percent of credit managers answered “yes” when asked “Are you prepared to lie to show high achievements to your employer?” Forty-nine percent of marketing experts, 44 percent of HR managers, 44 percent of state officials, 41 percent of travel agents and 40 percent of realtors have the same attitude. The most “honest” professionals in Russia are doctors, nannies, teachers and programmers. The number of potential liars in these professions is less than a quarter, the poll found.

Very few Russians believe that all conflicts can be mediated by law. This reflects general skepticism of the judicial system. “To appeal to the court just means wasting your time,” said Muscovite Elena Klimenkova. “If you do not give a bribe to the judge, then you have very little chance of winning the case.” Two thirds of the participants in the “Post-Soviet man” survey share this belief, agreeing that it is very difficult or even impossible to obtain a fair judgment. However, this mistrust applies to Russian courts only. The same respondents believe that they could defend themselves in the European Court of Human Rights.

Most Russians also do not trust NGOs and believe they are useless. According to the Levada Center survey, only five percent of adult citizens in Russia are members of a non governmental organization, including charities, political parties, woman rights’ groups and local organizations. Those polled do not believe that NGOs can have a significant impact on everyday life, they complained of a lack of free time and fatigue, and confessed to an absence of any interest in the problems of other people, except relatives and close friends. A typical post-Soviet man does not want to support anybody but continues replying on the state.

The only area where utter distrust is less common is within a family. Most participants in the survey said that they trust close relatives and consider a close-knit family one of the most valuable things in life. Honesty and decency are the most attractive personal characteristics of both men and women when Russians look for spouses and partners.
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